Natty Dread

Bob Marley & The Wailers

Tuff Gong / Island Records, 1974

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Reggae is very much an acquired taste - you may not like it the first time, but you'll soon find yourself skanking to its hypnotic rhythms. Desmond Dekker got us grooving to "Israelites" in the mid-'60s (which was the subject of a hilarious Maxell commercial - if anyone hasa copy of it, e-mail me pronto). Even Paul Simon dabbled in it with "Mother And Child Reunion." But the group best known for bringing reggae to the masses was Bob Marley And The Wailers.

Their third outing for Island Records, Natty Dread, was a transition period for the group. Founding members Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer had left the group, leaving Marley to carry on. And while there are some excellent moments on this album, one can hear that Marley had not matured into the great songwriter he would eventually become, and the influence of the departed members is missed.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Natty Dread opens up strongly with "Lively Up Yourself," a song which had me Snoopy-dancing around the Pierce Memorial Archives (watch out for the Ratt... sorry, couldn't help myself) with glee. With long-time backing vocalists the I-Threes (including Marley's wife Rita), the band is able to create a happy, loopy mood that one wishes would never end. (I still prefer this version to the faster-tempoed one on Live.)

The first mistake comes on the classic track "No Woman No Cry." What the hell is this - a drum machine? What I remember as a solemn, moving number from Live, in its original form sounds like Marley farting around with a cheap Casio keyboard. Three words: no, no, no ! I will concede that this version is a little more clear in the lyric department; Marley always had a tendency to be difficult to understand.

The tide turns again on the final two tracks of the side. "Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)" and "Rebel Music" are both solid pieces of songwriting and performing, especially the drum work of Carlton "Carly" Barrett. "Rebel Music" is an especially satisfying track, with Marley being in fine voice.

If only the second side of Natty Dread was as good as the first; it is here that Marley's songwriting proves itself to be limited at the time. "So Jah Seh" and the title track fail to do anything for the listener. "Talkin' Blues," however, seems to have Marley exploring new musical territories previously unventured into in reggae. The track is a tad slow, but interesting.

So why is Natty Dread dsiappointing? Without the benefit of Tosh and Wailer to play off of, there is no track like "Stir It Up," "Get Up, Stand Up" or "I Shot The Sheriff" on this one. Yes, Marley would go on to become one of the greatest voices in reggae, and his songwriting would greatly improve to the point that he would overshadow Tosh and Wailer. But on this one, he's not yet achieved that nadir.

Natty Dread is an album that reggae fans will find somewhat enjoyable. But for the long-time Marley fans like myself, the album screams of what could have been. And had Tosh and Wailer stuck around for one more album this could have been the Wailers' shining moment.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Tuff Gong / Island Records, and is used for informational purposes only.